Nimbus is one of those indie games that’s magical yet infuriating. It has everything going for it: impressive presentation, an outstanding soundtrack, meticulous level design, and solid gameplay. Yet it has that one glaring shortcoming that very nearly ruins the creativity and sheer fun that developer Noumenon Games very obviously invested their passion and blood into. The worst part?
It’s not even really Noumenon’s fault.
While it may not necessarily look it, Nimbus is very much a retro inspired game. The opening scene depicts two air-powered zeppelins in some sort of grassy knoll about to do the nasty, blimp-style, when a giant eyeball with a metallic crane-arm snatches the pink (and presumably female) vehicle and runs off. It’s your standard “save the princess” retro archetype that tries to inject some sort of minimal story to the solid gameplay. After that inexplicable spectacle, you’re brought to a simple world map, where you select levels, complete them to progress, the usual deal. Overall, the aesthetic is quite pleasing and almost sterile, as all the objects in the world give off the kind of sheen and cleanliness not seen in the gritty, ultra-hyper-realistic HD graphics of today.
The graphics are deceiving though; Nimbus is not a game to be taken likely. Part puzzler and part platformer, in certain instances it’s just as difficult as recent hard-as-balls indie darlings such as Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV. The goal is fairly simple: get to the finish line. The gameplay mechanics, however, are a bit more tricky; you’re an air-propelled zeppelin, that behaves like a glider. Gravity is both your best friend and your worst enemy; you speed up by shooting straight down, and when you climb in altitude your velocity decreases exponentially.
The crux of all the levels is essentially to maintain enough momentum and speed to get to the finish line. During some of the longer levels, there’ll be checkpoint “cannons” located in convenient locations, in case you die (and you will, a lot). Additionally, hidden in some of the levels are special gold coins that can be used to unlock upgrades for your ship. Ultimately though, I found out those upgrades were purely cosmetic, and did absolutely nothing to enhance/change the experience, so the collect-a-thon was pretty much inconsequential.
The further you progress into the game, the more wrenches are thrown into the mix to switch things up. Each of the five worlds introduces a new gameplay element to keep you gliding to the goal, or into some spikes if you’re so inclined. In this way, Nimbus does a brilliant job of keeping worlds and levels fresh; never at one point did I feel as if the levels were uninspired, or that they were just carbon copies of previous levels, just with new gimmicks thrown in. In fact, it has some of the best level progression and pacing I’ve seen in a game in a while; through each world and level, everything you’ve completed and learned so far in one world is extremely well-utilized in the next world, and so on, and before you know it, you’re playing a level that requires some extreme skills and precision to complete.
Unfortunately, that’s where my main issue with Nimbus lies: the precision. To control your aircraft you use either the WASD or arrow keys in a tank-style control, where left always makes the zeppelin go left, right makes it go right, and so on. Since you’re more often than not falling, the controls feel inverted, and thus take a little getting used to. This control scheme’s fine for the earlier levels that don’t require too much precision, but in the later worlds, there are sections in levels where you’ll be flying through long corridors of spikes, all while avoiding moving spike blocks in your path, and trying to aim for bumper columns to maintain your momentum.
Oh, and did I also mention the gravity switches in later levels that shift your gravity from normal to upside down or left/right? Mixing all of that together results in certain levels that are not only frustrating, but just plain unfun to play after umpteen attempts. With gravity constantly changing and such small corridors to navigate, adjusting the tank controls in your brain and acting accordingly can get pretty difficult, especially in sections that require fast reflexes.
In a game that’s already considerably difficult, there should be no reason for the controls to add to the difficulty. I completely understand that you’re controlling a free-floating aircraft that doesn’t produce thrust, and that the physics should feel floaty, but there has to be some way to recreate that feel and yet maintain the most precise controls possible. In some of the later levels I found myself slowing down to a crawl during these situations just so I could get through them, and even then, the lack of analog control in any of the actions made me die quite a few times. This game should benefit from a gamepad, but while it does have support for a pad, the controls are strictly mapped to the D-pad only, so there isn’t much of a point.
Nimbus is still a good game that I enjoyed to the very end, but the inherently janky controls really did mar some of the experience for me in the last world or so. I can’t really put that blame on Noumenon though; with a game like this, a tank-style control scheme does make the most sense, especially if your character is constantly changing orientation and gravity fields change on the fly. If there was some way to make the control of the zeppelin more precise without taking away from the physics, this might have been one of my games of the year period, but as it stands it’s merely a good game with some fantastic level design and puzzle elements. I urge you to still support the small indie developer and check this out; for all the content it provides, Nimbus is the WTFOMG SO EXPENSIVE price of $9.99, and they really do deserve all your money for such a clever concept and title. Perhaps then they can find a way to fix the problems and hit it out of the ball park with Nimbus 2.
- Title: Nimbus
- Platform Reviewed: PC
- Developer: Noumenon Games
- Publisher: Noumenon Games
- MSRP: $9.99
- Release Date: Available Now
- Review Copy Info: A copy of this game was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.